I saw Rachel Brosnahan die on a Wednesday. You may not have heard, because it happened on Quibi. With the Emmys upon us this Sunday, I decided to query my pop-culture-drowned mind, and tried to decide on what I'd call the most affecting piece of television from the past year. And I kept coming back to Rachel Brosnahan's performance in "The Golden Arm" from Quibi's series 50 States of Fright. In it, she plays a woman who has a deep attachment to her prosthetic golden arm, so much so that it kills her. It's not nominated for an Emmy, and that's a damn shame.
In case you do not have 20 minutes to spare on the three (three!) part digital series that you can only watch on your phone, Rachel Brosnahan plays a woman with a golden arm. Don't ask me her name. It doesn't matter. She is insufferable, constantly asking her impoverished, lumberjack husband to buy her things he doesn't have the money for. He, for no other apparent reason than the fact she's pretty, does it. All he asks in return is that one day, she come and help him lumberjack (verb?). She ends up not doing her job correctly, and long story short, a tree falls on her arm.
Worried she's losing too much blood, he cuts her arm off with an axe. In the midst of her devastation, she demands a golden arm—that's the only way to make this better. But the arm makes her sick, and instead of living with prosthesis made of a less precious metal, she chooses death, so long as she can be buried with the titular golden arm. Her now-destitute widower goes to retrieve the arm from her grave so he can presumably hock it for cash, and she haunts and kills him with the same axe he used cut her arm off. You hate to see it.
I have no idea if this is supposed to be drama or satire or comedy. It is labeled as horror, but outside of the gratuitous bloodshed, it is not that. Let's just call it art. And as much as I'd love to say that "The Golden Arm" is a one off, this exists on a platform packed full of enjoyable trash. The issue here is that Quibi, the quasi-failed, smartphone-based streaming platform that is decidedly one golden arm shy of success, took itself too seriously from moment go. It boasted stars like Sophie Turner and Adam Rippon and Chrissy Teigen, but it never had the oomph to be a serious contender in the streaming space. At least not in the way it might have hoped. Though Quibi blamed its lag on the pandemic when people should have been distracted by their phones most, I would venture to say that it mostly buckled because of traditionally bad content. But there was something kind of magical about the farcical elements of "The Golden Arm."
As I was watching Brosnahan invest her full self into this shallow woman who speaks like a Michagander caricature with a golden-armed death wish, I kept thinking, "Where's the turn in this where Rachel said, 'Oh, this is the line that sold me on the script'?" I never found it, and then I realized—I don't think she did either. Without knowing that Sam Raimi intended his 50 States of Fright as legitimate horror fodder based off folklore, these mini episodes come off as charming self-owns. A-list actors who decided, "To hell with it. I'm going to do this dumpster fire of a concept for some petty cash." In reality, Brosnahan probably got that sweet, sweet Quibi money and remodeled her hall closet or something. That only made me like it more.
It must be a symptom of the weird post-ironic cultural climate we live in. The internet is wild with strange content that straddles the line between terrible and surreal. Butts of jokes become legitimate punchlines and then they end up being embraced as earnest art. This mentality is why mullets are back in style. The aesthetic of so much of Quibi's content falls into that range: strangely terrible, bite-sized nuggets of content that would be inconveniencing if it were any longer. My theory is that the reason more people never gravitated toward the platform is because Quibi never saw its potential in being weird as hell (save the Reno 911 reboot, which had the benefit of being birthed from a series that was always really strange).
But if the Emmys do what I believe the ceremony should do—recognize the best content that reflects our current times—then why not give "The Golden Arm" an Emmy? Reno 911 is nominated for short-form series. Let Brosnahan's impassioned delivery of lackluster dialogue follow suit. I know that the timing is too late for Emmy consideration, but all I can think about is what Quibi's future would have looked like if an executive along the way had been brave enough to say, "Wow, we invested in hot garbage, mama. Let's change our marketing strategy." Quibi and all its deliciously soured morsels of content could have been something great.
Quibi is surely going to continuing dying its slow death. It likely won't even win its very limited nominations this weekend, and to me, that's a bummer. The mega-wealthy investors will find something else to pour money into, but I won't be able to move on. Not without my golden arm.
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